1. Does Whitman's deletion of the Lucifer/slave passage in "The Sleepers" essentially alter the meaning of the poem? Is the poem more or less coherent with the passage removed? In what ways does the presence or absence of the passage affect our understanding of other passages in the poem, like the passage about the "beautiful gigantic swimmer" or the passage about a weeping George Washington or the passage about the visit to the narrator's mother of a "red squaw"?
2. What is the effect of Whitman's movement from a white male military leader (Washington) to an American Indian woman to an African-American slave? Consider the shift of focus here in terms of gender, race, and social position. Discuss the array of affectional relationships in these three sections of the poem: older male/younger males (Washington and his troops), older woman/younger woman (narrator's mother/Indian woman), slave male/slave female. Would the effect be different if Whitman had reversed the order of these three sections? How?
3. Whitman ends "The Sleepers" with an address to the night: "I stay a while away O night, but I return to you again and love you." He also associates the night with "O my mother" in the final lines. How is the night a maternal image in the poem? What does it nurture or give birth to? Often in his poetry, Whitman directly addresses the reader, but why does he turn at the end of this poem to a direct address to the night? How is the night itself a character in this poem?
4. Consider how these subjects interweave and interact in the poem: nakedness, confusion, death, loss, sensuality, violence, peace. Do any or all of these subjects appear in the Lucifer/slave section of the poem?
5. Do you think "The Sleepers" is mostly a poem about internal psychological experience or a poem about American culture (diversity, racial difference, social status, American history)? If you sense both elements at play in the poem, how does the psychological interest interact with the cultural concerns? Can we productively talk about the poem as a "psycho-cultural" creation?
6. Think about the different titles Whitman gave the poem: "Night Poem," "Sleep-Chasings," and "The Sleepers." Which is the most effective title and why? Do the different titles encourage you to read the poem in different ways?